How Robots Could Lower The Gender Pay Gap

By Adi Gaskell, Contributor
Robots Can Improve Gender Equality getty

The introduction of robots into the workforce has been well documented in terms of their impact on jobs and employability. One aspect that seldom gets discussed, however, is the role robots might play in terms of workplace inequality. Research from the University of Pittsburgh attempts to plug that gap, and argues that robots have the potential to alter the marital status and even marital fertility.

The authors suggest that when robots enter the workforce, it affects the willingness of women to enter into such long-term commitments as marriage. What's more, the introduction of robots was found to affect the income of women far less than men, which itself plays a role in redressing the gender pay gap.

Robotic influence

The researchers tracked the impact of robots in 741 regions across the United States and found that there was a noticeable fall in gender inequality in both income and workforce participation after the introduction of industrial robots. Interestingly, however, they also found that this influence extended into the home, with an impact on marriage stability, fertility, and the earning power of men.

"There has been an intense debate on the effects of robotics and automation on labor market outcomes, but we still know little about how these structural economic changes are reshaping key life-course choices," the researchers say.

"Our study shows the exposure to robots' competition affected the relative labor market opportunities of men and women. Male income fell at a substantially higher rate than female income, decreasing the gender income gap. Moreover, robot exposure has increased female labor force participation significantly while leaving the labor force participation of men unchanged. We argue that these labor market effects affected men's marriageability and women's willingness to long-term commitments with a decline in marriages and marital fertility."

Life in a time of robotics

There has been a considerable exploration of the impact of robotics on the economic prospects of workers in an age in which robots are a greater presence in the workplace. The researchers wanted to extend that to explore how this might impact family life as well.

Data were collected from the American Community Survey, which provides insights into marriage, divorce, fertility, and cohabitation on an annual basis. The researchers assessed each report from 2005 to 2016 as well as examined data from the International Federation of Robots on the exposure to robots across the country.

They also attempted to restrict any potential influence from demographic trends by comparing regional employment figures with the rise of robotics in the United States and then in Europe. The results showed that there was a distinct effect on men and women when they were exposed to robots in the labor market.

The results show that an increase of one standard deviation in the exposure to robots tended to harm the career prospects of men, with a decrease in their income. This in turn reduced the gender income gap by around 4.2% and the workforce participation gap by around 2.1%. This resulted in women in these areas having greater bargaining power and the men in these areas suffering from a decline in their economic stature.

Family status

Interestingly, the introduction of robotics also changed the family dynamic. For instance, while the researchers observed no overall decline in fertility, they did spot a decline in marital fertility of 12%, which corresponded with a 15% increase in nonmarital births. What's more, areas with an increased deployment of robots also experienced a 1% fall in the marriage rate, a 9% increase in the divorce rate, and a 10% rise in the likelihood of cohabitation.

These results were consistent across industries, from the automotive to the electronics sector. It also appeared to be consistent across time rather than something that was unique to a particular era. This prompted them to conclude that robots weren't replacing humans per see, but they did nonetheless cause a ripple effect that both policymakers and businesses should be aware of and plan for.

These plans could include a great emphasis on family policies that provide more effective coverage for married and cohabiting couples, while also working to tap into employer-employee data to ensure that any concerns about the wellbeing of children in families affected by robots are addressed.

"Our findings add to a long-standing discussion on the effects of technology—household appliances, medical progress, etc.—on family and fertility decisions by focusing on a more recent wave of technological changes, particularly the development of robotics and automation," the researchers conclude. "Those technological changes, instead of directly affecting fertility and family choices, might disrupt them by profoundly changing employment opportunities for both women and men."


What is inkl?

Important stories

See news based on value, not advertising potential. Get the latest news from around the world.

Trusted newsrooms

We bring you reliable news from the world’s most experienced journalists in the most trusted newsrooms.

Ad-free reading

Read without interruptions, distractions or intrusions of privacy.